MELBOURNE -- To understand Aryna Sabalenka's tennis evolution, you have to dig into her personal evolution. From a brash, wide-eyed, tempestuous teenager, she has forged herself into a disciplined, controlled forceful player. 

Sabalenka's Australian Open encore signals a bold step forward

After winning her first Australian Open last year, coming from a set down, the 25-year-old Sabalenka discussed her newfound understanding of what it means to be a fighter. Twelve months on, Sabalenka did not need to come back from the brink of anything. The defending champion did not drop a set in the tournament. Only one player, Coco Gauff, was able to win more than three games in a set. 

After Sabalenka's dominant run in Melbourne, she joined the WTA Insider Podcast to discuss how she learned to embrace her vulnerability and why there's a big difference between winning your first Grand Slam versus your second. 

Listen to the full interview below:

WTA Insider: How important was it for you to not be a 'One-Slam Wonder'?

Sabalenka: "It's very sad that people call "one Grand Slam champions" that way. And of course, it was in my head, I didn't want to be a one-time Grand Slam champion. 

"I'm super happy that I was able to win two Grand Slams. And I really hope that I can keep building my tennis, keep getting better, and then hopefully keep winning."

WTA Insider: We spoke to Anton [Dubrov] and Jason [Stacy] and they said they were already thinking about what you could have done better. How do you balance that motivation to constantly improve while also taking the time to enjoy your successes?

Sabalenka: "That's why I love my team and that's why I think my team is the best. Because after wins, after titles, straight away they are thinking what can we improve right now to get better and to keep building my tennis. I think that's really important to never stop improving yourself. 

"There is time to enjoy your titles, but it's also all about the balance, to enjoy it a little bit of time and leave it in the past and start working for the next tournaments. So it's not tough to balance it if you have the right people around you."

WTA Insider: You and your team speak a lot about personal improvement. What changes are you most proud of that might not be as obvious from the outside?

Sabalenka: "Well, I would say that I'm more open right now. I'm happy that I was able to build some friendships, like with Paula [Badosa]. Because before I was so closed and I was so afraid to open up to people. I'm happy that I have such a friend like Paula. She's the best. I love this girl. I think we're kind of similar. 

"And it's not like I wasn't respecting people before, but I respect everyone more than I used to. 

"I cannot ignore the fact that I'm really proud that I was able to understand myself better. I have this control of myself. That's quite an obvious thing. Everyone sees that, but it's really tough to improve when you're such an emotional person and you're used to getting super emotional every time. To actually become really in control on court, it's really tough work."

WTA Insider: Do you consider yourself a secure person or an insecure person?

Sabalenka: "I would say, if I let people be my friends or be around me, I'm a really open person. You can ask for anything, I will help. You just need to call me and I will do anything you need to help you or to support you. 

"But to get there, I'm really quite a closed person. I've been through really difficult situations in life with some people and that's why I become that closed. That's what I mean when I'm saying I'm more open right now."

WTA Insider: How are you planning to top your iconic champion's trophy shoot from last year? 

Sabalenka: "I have a couple of dresses in my in my luggage. I'm happy to have my agent's wife who is taking care of my style right now. We're definitely going to go through some options and we're going to choose altogether. 

"But last year was iconic. I don't know if we can stay on the same level. It was like a t-shirt and a dress and it was the one I wanted for the WTA Finals, but it wasn't in stock. 

"Right now, I have nothing in my head, so far. So I don't know, we just going to go through a bunch of options and then see what is the best and hopefully it's going to look beautiful."

More from Australia

Sabalenka was of course the standout player of this year's event. Who else stood out? Here's a look back at the notable performances from two weeks in Melbourne:

Honor Roll

Zheng Qinwen: In 2022, Zheng was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year. Last year, she received 2023's Most Improved Player accolade. And now she is already a Grand Slam finalist and a newly minted Top 10 player in 2024. 

Zheng fell one match short of her Grand Slam dream, but there is no reason to believe her rise won't continue. "I think I can learn more with the loss today," Zheng said after the final. "And then I just hope next time I can come back as a better tennis player and come back stronger."


Dayana Yastremska: Yastremska narrowly missed direct entry into the main draw and had to grit out a trio of three-set wins as the No.1 seed in qualifying. But once she made the big show, she played her best, beating reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in the first round and charging all the way into her first major semifinal. 

Linda Noskova: This time last year, Noskova made the Adelaide final but lost in the first round of Australian Open qualifying. Twelve months later, in her Australian Open main-draw debut, the Czech teen shocked World No.1 Iga Swiatek on the way to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Maria Timofeeva: Despite winning her first WTA singles title last year, Timofeeva had never faced a Top 50 player coming into Melbourne. But after beating former champion Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, Timofeeva finally faced Top 50 opposition, when she shocked No.10 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia to make the Round of 16.

Quote of the Tournament

"I don't know what I'm gonna do any match or any time, so be ready." -- Hsieh Su-wei, after the Australian Open women's doubles final

Hsieh has been keeping all of us on our toes with her unorthodox play and off-the-wall quips for over two decades now. But that has never affected her ability on the doubles court, which she proved again this weekend.

On Friday, Hsieh won the first Grand Slam mixed doubles title of her career with Jan Zielinski. She came back two days later to take her seventh career Grand Slam women's doubles title alongside Elise Mertens, improving the numbers on both of their resumes.

Photo of the Tournament

A range of emotions passed over Dayana Yastremska's face after the qualifier clinched a spot in a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time last Monday.


Notable Numbers

9: Aryna Sabalenka is the ninth player in the Open Era to win Australian Open women's singles titles back to back. The others are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Stefanie Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka.

4: Dayana Yastremska is the fourth woman in the last 40 years who had to beat five Top 50 opponents en route to the Australian Open semifinals. The other players who did that were Gabriela Sabatini in 1994, Martina Hingis in 1997 (the eventual champion) and Dominika Cibulkova in 2014.

54: Zheng Qinwen had the most aces at the 2024 Australian Open, firing 54. Zheng also hit the most double faults in the draw, with 41. 

19: With her third-round win over Iga Swiatek, 19-year-old Linda Noskova became the first teenager to defeat a World No. 1 at the Australian Open since Amelie Mauresmo beat Lindsay Davenport in the 1999 semifinals.

Next Up

This week, the WTA 500 Upper Austria Ladies Linz will take place on indoor hardcourts. Jelena Ostapenko, former World No.1 Angelique Kerber, and this week's Australian Open semifinalist Dayana Yastremska are among the participants.

Read more: Ana Ivanovic recalls her special moments in Linz

And the WTA 250 Thailand Open will run concurrently on outdoor hard courts in Hua Hin. Magda Linette is the No.1 seed, and Zhu Lin is back to try to defend her title as the No.2 seed.